He was one of the most passionate and committed student leaders in his public campus ministry at Michigan State University in the early 2000s. He led out in Bible studies, organized evangelistic meetings on his campus, and participated in the life of his local church, all while completing a degree in engineering. But what happened after leaving college? How does one navigate that transition from a vibrant youth-infused religious experience to the concerns and sobriety of adulting? Through a series of emails, Sikhululekile Daco, associate editor, Adventist Review, gleaned some insights from Marcus Peters, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, with a passion for studying God’s Word and a burden for sharing it with others, on his journey into adulting.
Daco: You attended a non-Adventist college for your undergraduate studies. Was it important to you to find Adventist community as a student?
Peters: Absolutely! I was an international student far away from my home and family in Trinidad and Tobago. The local church was my home away from home, and it helped me acclimate to new foods, friends, and the frigid weather of Michigan!
As a Seventh-day Adventist young man, why did you decide not to attend an Adventist school for college?
My criteria for selecting a college was driven primarily by academics and finances (scholarships). I attended public schools for most of my childhood, so I didn’t have a frame of reference or appreciation for the virtues of Christian education, let alone Adventist education.
How did your Adventist community impact your spirituality while you were a student?
This is difficult to quantify, but two areas in which I experienced the most growth come to mind. First, excellence. I felt challenged to excel spiritually and academically. These two aspirations always felt antithetical, if not unattainable, to me until I encountered fellow Adventist students who challenged that paradigm both in rhetoric and lifestyle. That shift in philosophy for me was life-changing in how I navigated a public university as an Adventist student.
Second, experience. After joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church in my late teens, I would describe my faith as one that was primarily intellectual. I knew the proof texts, and the problem ones, too. However, going to college
in a secular environment challenged my faith to grow beyond the intellectual to one that was experiential. The local church I attended fostered a missionary mindset in reaching the student population. That mindset was quite contagious! To participate in a first encounter all the way to witnessing a student make positive decisions for Christ (and His church) put my faith on steroids!
How integrated was your student group with the local church?
The student group was quite integrated with the local church. Students served in strategic positions on the church board and were active participants in the Sabbath services. In my junior year of college, I began serving as a campus ministries leader on the church board. The local church had created the position to integrate the student ministry on campus into the life of the church. As president of the campus ministry, I could better integrate our plans on campus with the church calendar by sitting on the board. Later I was appointed as an elder and became even more involved in the life of the church. The experience helped broaden my understanding of how decisions are made at the local church level. I learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, and I also learned that cultivating relationships is important. I discovered that getting buy-in on a plan is as critical as the plan itself.
Did you find peers in your new church when you left college?
The next church I attended after college was warm and loving, but my new “peers” were older and grayer.
What kept you attending church after college even though there weren’t that many (or any?) young people in your age group?
To be honest, the thought of not attending church never crossed my mind. I’ve always enjoyed the Sabbath fellowship that a church community offers. This appreciation grew as I entered a secular work environment that can, at times, be hostile to people of faith. Perhaps the greatest blessing I received at the local church was mentorship in the areas of practical Christianity. Learning how to have a family life that incorporates both faith and fun, understanding the first steps to financial freedom, and being a better communicator in my marriage are some of the lessons I remember most from my early post-college experience.
Incidentally, how did you find a wife even though you were not attending an Adventist college?
I’d like to think that my wife found me! But in all seriousness, our paths crossed when I was church-hopping during my freshman year of college. She just happened to be home from her college that weekend and was attending her local church. Our connection was platonic at first; I caught feelings second; we became official during my sophomore year and got married during my first semester as a junior. I view my wife as my purpose partner. Having the clarity at graduation on whom I wanted to do life with made for an easier transition to the immediate adulting challenges of student loans, housing, and family planning.
What did you find most challenging as a young professional transitioning from college to work life?
On the upside, I was excited to finally earn a real paycheck and not be obligated to write another 10-page paper! Perhaps the greatest challenge was trying (and failing) to duplicate the spiritual highs I experienced while in college in my new post-college environment.
The highs I experienced were often tied to an event: hearing a powerful sermon or a moving testimony, or participating in a lively service. There was a period after college in which I was chasing those experiences. But then I realized that the “high” was always tied to someone else. It came from a great preacher, a new convert, or a vibrant church. So as soon as those individuals were removed, the feeling of spiritual exuberance was gone too. This repeated disappointment helped reorient my focus from finding fulfillment solely from what I can get from the church experience to what I can give back. Now I can testify, as Acts 20:35 reminds us, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
What practical steps did you implement to help you navigate the transition from student life to post-college life?
Staying connected with old friends and being intentional at making new ones was a good first step. From our first year of marriage, my wife and I made it a point to have people over at least once a month, and have kept that tradition going ever since. As time passed, we also became more mindful of improving on the missionary opportunities within our sphere of influence. While this adventurous spirit has gotten us out of our comfort zone, it has opened multiple doors to study the Bible and nurture lasting relationships with our neighbors and coworkers. I’ll share an example from a recent experience.
Two years ago we purchased some land to build a home in the country. Coincidentally, two other couples (now our neighbors) had the same idea, and we were all building our homes about the same time. Sadly, that was not the only thing we had in common, as we all drilled wells but found no water. But what felt like the Great Disappointment turned out to be a divine appointment!
One day my neighbor was sharing his frustration about the entire ordeal. Just as I was about to join the pity party, I felt a deep conviction from the Spirit that I should offer to pray with him about our current predicament. I resisted at first, thinking, Maybe he’s not a Christian, and wondering what I would do if he reacted negatively. My wife, who was within earshot of the conversation and never one to let a divine opportunity go to waste, gave me the look, and I ultimately yielded to the conviction. As I ended my prayer of petition, both my neighbor and I felt at peace that the Lord would make a way where there was none.
The seed of that prayer transformed a casual encounter into a deeper spiritual relationship with our neighbors. Today our two sets of neighbors have a rainwater harvesting system, and we have one as well. Miraculously, our 1,000-foot well that was once dry now has water!
After the home was built, we invited our neighbors over for a meal and some board games. One visit led to another, and as we won their confidence, the Lord opened the door for us to start a small group Bible study in our home. We jokingly refer to it as the rainwater support group, but instead of complaining about water (or lack thereof), we now study the Word!
We still have the same mission we did when we were students, but our methods have changed because our touchpoints have changed. We’re not praying with classmates about grades, but with neighbors about property development. We now have a home in which we can entertain guests and solidify connections. We have the income to support our own initiatives. And we have a little more wisdom now than before.
How would you compare your spiritual life during your student years to where it is now as a professional with a family?
There are some similarities and a few differences. I still enjoy daily quiet time with God, Sabbath fellowship, and leading people to Jesus. Compared to my student life, though, I now find more fulfillment in being rather than doing—in experiences more than events. When it comes to messages, I find myself more inspired by a testimony than a sermon. And my life now has a greater emphasis on personal ministry than on church outreach activities.
With hindsight, what advice would you give your younger self on making the transition from student life to “adulting”?
Aside from going easy on the student loans, I would advise my younger self to be intentional about discovering my spiritual gifts. And to seek clarity on my life’s calling rather than just the pursuit of a degree or course of study. Previously I was inclined to say yes to every ministry endeavor or spiritual request, for fear of feeling guilty if I said no. This would often have me assuming responsibilities for which I was not suited, leaving me exhausted and frustrated. In adulthood I’ve been more intentional in this area of my life and have found my ministry calling in the areas of preaching, teaching, and administration. There is more inner peace and less internal disharmony. Because I’ve said “Yes” to God’s specific call on my life, it’s a lot easier to say “No” to everything else, even to things that are not inherently evil.
What can a student today do to best prepare for “the real world”? It’s very easy to participate vicariously in other people’s experiences; to substitute their testimonies for our own. We rob ourselves when we do so, and often find our faith wanting when exposed to the challenges of “the real world.” Cultivate the habit of bringing the Word of God into your daily experience. This is one of the best guides for navigating life’s challenges. Daniel 1 takes on a new meaning when I’m invited to happy hour after work. Song of Solomon 4 provides more insights on how to spice up my marriage than the latest chick flick. Genesis 39 illustrates the impact of working with integrity even when there is no external incentive. Isaiah 43 reminds me that I need not live my life based on the miracles of the past, as God is able to do a new thing in the here and now. Whether we’re on a college campus or living out in the country, the same principle applies. We need to live a life that’s guided by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!